A few weeks ago, I had a really interesting and unusual lecture which got me thinking about the ways in which we learn, and how we form associations in our minds in order to retain information. It was a lecture on Middle English lyric poetry, and so we walked in to the soundtrack of a sung performance of one of the lyrics from the Medieval period. My interest was immediately piqued as I have a (very) soft spot for choral music, and particularly sacred choral music. Little did I know when I took my seat that the lecture was about to become very music-centric.

Around halfway through, the two lecturers who were sharing the lecture gave us a short performance of one of the lyrics and there was a strange atmosphere in the room, a sort of respect for them for putting themselves out there in that way. Then we were told that we were going to be joining in as well. At this point my inner nerd was doing cartwheels as I love any excuse to sing. I was slightly apprehensive as, in my experience, people don’t often take well to being asked to sing. Surprisingly, pretty much everyone joined in, and it was a really good part of the lecture.

My point is that this is an unusual thing to happen in a lecture. It’s not something any of us were expecting. However, it really helped to further my understanding of the poetry we were looking at in its original context. It’s also helped the lecture and the information heard during that lecture stay in my mind.

A similar situation occurred last year during a Creative Writing lecture, in which my lecturer randomly walked to the back of the room and let his colleague take over, only to return a few minutes later. The point they were demonstrating is that a writer needs to include change in their stories in order to interest the reader, and the same thing applied to our lecture. I will never forget the important of the concept of change in writing, thanks to the change that interrupted our lecture.

I also had a lecturer on my critical theory module insert a picture of a koala bear into the middle of his PowerPoint presentation. Now, whenever my friend and I refer to that lecture, we remember it as the ‘koala bear lecture’!

The point I am trying to make here is not one about how creative my lecturers are (even though the majority of them are brilliant academics and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to study with their guidance), but rather one about the ways in which we learn, and how we make associations between memories and our surroundings. How often do you remember a place by the food you ate there? Or remember a conversation by what the person was wearing, or where you were standing? It’s the same thing when we are learning – we’re much more likely to remember what was said if it was said in an unusual or interesting way.

So next time there’s information you need to remember, either for work, class, or even socially, try to pay attention to your surroundings; find something that stands out and tie the information to this unusual thing. It might be strange, but it does help.

I can’t find the exact koala bear photograph my lecturer used last year, but here’s a different one just for you. ❤

‘Snugglepot’ by Tom Harms